What happens when the respective creators of Magic: The Gathering and Ascension team up? If you know either of those games, you'd probably answer They'd make a really awesome card game. Not only have they made a really awesome card game, they've made a really awesome iOS game. Combining the harrowing decision-making of MTG with the fast action of Ascension, SolForge is a game that takes seconds to learn and hours to master. And besides all of that complicated gamertalk, it's really fun.
In SolForge, you can jump right into the action. You don't wait around until you have enough mana to summon creatures like in MTG, or spend time building a deck in an endless loop like in Ascension (both fun games). You get 5 cards per hand, and you can use two. Choose carefully, though, because you discard any remaining cards at the end of your turn.
The cards that you play “level up” over the course of the game, and you level up as well. I like this mechanic a lot because it perfectly justifies the digital format, while still using a time-honored fantasy rpg concept. And when you get a level 2 or 3 card, you'll see a big difference over the level ones. Some of the cards in the game even allow you to level and discard a card (your deck recycles, so it will come back to you). Don't underestimate the advantage you get from playing a level 3 card early in the game – it can mean everything.
There are spaces for ten cards on the game board, five for each player. You play fantasy monsters in these spaces, and they have their own abilities. Some can jump one to three open spaces nearby. Some deal any leftover damage straight to the player they're attacking when they annihilate the creature in front of them. Some deal direct damage to the player, or to other creatures, and these are the cards I personally like playing. Reminds me of the Red Mana cards in MTG.
Each player has 100 life points, and the first to zero loses. At first, this made me think the game would probably take forever. Once the monsters, spells, and level-ups start flying though, games can be surprisingly short. I recommend playing LOTS of games against the computer AI so that you get a good feel for strategy and card combinations. When and if you decide to play against fellow humans, do yourself a favor and choose the “timed” game. When players have unlimited time, the game tends to drag as they recombinate their choices. I even had one online player who was clearly going to lose, so he chose to try and wait me out. Unfortunately for him, I was at home and could just continue working on my desktop. And so I won.
Players are rewarded for logging in and winning up to 3 matches a day. There are Basic, Normal, and Premium Booster Packs available through the in-game store. The Basic Booster pack can be purchased for either Gold (which the players must buy with real-money) or with Silver, which the player can earn by winning matches. The Basic Booster, however, only includes 3 cards, guaranteeing that at least one will be a Rare, possibly Heroic or Legendary. I once opened one that had two Legendary cards.
In-App purchases don't bother me as long as they don't ruin the game. In this case, I'm a little bit torn. I like that the game rewards you with silver and the occasional 8-card Normal Booster, but if you really want to get a good deck fast, it's pretty clear you're going to need to shell out some cash. In fact, you can't even purchase a Premium Booster unless you spend at least $19.99 on a pile of gold. It is tempting to write the game off as an offensive cash grab that only rewards the players who spend the most money.
However, that would be irresponsible. If you want to build up a powerful deck full of Legendary cards, you can do that without spending a single dime. The daily rewards often feature a Normal or Basic Booster, and I usually purchase at least 4 Basic Boosters a day using the Silver rewards that I get for winning against the computer or an online opponent. It will undoubtedly take more time, but I think that's the ideal function of in-app purchases in an online game – to save them time. Because SolForge allows its players to earn in-game money that they can use to purchase Basic Boosters, it passes my personal litmus test for honest in-app purchases.
SolForge is fast-paced and fun to play. It's the perfect combination of card game and digital game. Its leveling mechanic keeps things interesting and unpredictable. If you want a game that will challenge you, and that you can also pick up and play in five minutes, get it now in the App Store.
Want me to review a game or App? Whether user, publisher, or dangerous rabid fan, send me an email: editor[at]iPad4Life[dot]net.